Stanley Johnson wins it for Adrian Griffin.
Stanley Johnson did it! pic.twitter.com/d6qUh4Rmvs
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) August 13, 2020
“Well, just like when athletes and basketball players are training in the summer, there’s nothing comparing to game condition,” Griffin said. “You know, you can work out all you want, but until you get in those games and you get up and down the court, there’s a difference. And I think it’s the same way. It’s really equivalent to an assistant coach moving over to that chair. You do all the training that you can and practice, but it’s good to get those game reps.”
Nurse has always put a high priority on his assistant coaches having head-coaching experience. His perspective in that regard was a reason Jerry Stackhouse went the Raptors 905 route to gain experience at, in Nurse’s estimation, five times the speed of an NBA bench. Jama Mahlalela followed with similar logic. Nurse coached the Raptors’ Summer League team during his first offseason but immediately installed a collaborative approach and spread around opportunity and responsibility throughout those tournaments and the preseason. Griffin has experienced coaching a Summer League team before, but with Wednesday’s game meaning little to the Raptors and Griffin a popular name for head-coaching vacancies, Wednesday marked a chance to nudge Griffin into the spotlight and get a feel for the steering wheel, so to speak.
“I think Coach is an awesome human being,” Griffin said. “He understands that a coach like me that needs some reps at being a head coach. He knows my ambitions and he wants to see me grow as an individual on and off the court. Definitely just an awesome gesture by Coach. He approached me with it and it just kinda shows what kind of character that Coach Nurse has. You know, we have a first-class organization for a reason. You start from the top with Masai (Ujiri) and Bobby (Webster) and Coach Nurse. There’s a reason why we’ve had success over the years.”
Cinderella Castle sits in the middle of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort. That’s about a 15-minute ride from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex where the NBA is playing, but one coach might want to try to sneak in a visit before midnight hits.
“For one night, I felt like Cinderella,” Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin said following Wednesday’s 125-121 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. “I had the glass slippers on.”
Griffin took over as the Raptors’ head coach on Wednesday, when Nick Nurse let his lead assistant get some hands-on experience in the lead chair.
“It’s great,” Griffin said of the experience. “Tomorrow, it’s back to reality. But it was an awesome feeling.”
Per NBA rules, Nurse gets credit for the coaching win on his record, but it was important for the Raptors players to send Griffin home with a “win.”
Philadelphia led by as many as 16 in the game and 10 in the fourth quarter. But as both teams went to their benches for the entirety of the final 12 minutes, Toronto staged a comeback.
The Raptors took the lead on a Stanley Johnson putback with 4.9 seconds to play, and after a turnover on Philadelphia’s possession, Paul Watson iced the game with two free throws.
Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid left after being hit in the right wrist in the first half of the Sixers’ 125-121 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday and didn’t return.
The Sixers said Embiid got an X-ray at halftime that came back negative. Embiid, who is coming off an ankle injury he suffered in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, was already going to be held to limited minutes, so he was kept out the remainder of the game.
A source told ESPN’s Malika Andrews the team isn’t concerned about there being a serious injury to Embiid’s wrist.
“I really don’t know a lot to share,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said after the game. “I do know it was whacked twice. As it relates to what’s next, or the evaluation of it, I am sorry, I can’t comment on that.”
Embiid, 26, checked out of the game for good with 7 minutes, 30 seconds to go in the first half and was not on the bench for much of the remainder of the quarter — only to reemerge in the final moments before the first half ended. He then was late coming out of the locker room for the second half, though he eventually emerged and was laughing and joking with people on the bench.
He finished the night with five points and nine rebounds on 1-for-4 shooting in 14 minutes.
Embiid played just the first half after missing a game with a left ankle injury. He also took a hit on the hand in this one and finished with five points in 14 minutes.
Tobias Harris scored 22 points and Furkan Korkmaz had 21 for the 76ers, who became locked into the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference earlier Wednesday, securing a first-round matchup against the Boston Celtics.
Griffin said Nurse approached him with the opportunity and the Raptors pulled it out for him by rallying from 10 down midway through the fourth quarter, and six down with under 2 minutes to play.
The Raptors’ first-round series against No. 7 Brooklyn had already been set.
76ers coach Brett Brown said the shirt he wore before the game, featuring a white figure with his arm around a Black one, was designed by Spurs guard Patty Mills, an Australian. Brown explained that for those who didn’t know Mills’ Aboriginal history, his mother came from what was called the “stolen generation,” which he said was “a cleansing of their version of Black children being brought into white suburban Adelaide.”
“And so this American thing that we’re going through with George Floyd and the flash points that we’ve all experienced here in the United States, it’s not unique to this nation,” added Brown, who worked with Mills on the Spurs and Australia’s national team.
“He did an unbelievable job,” said Kyle Lowry, who only played 25 minutes, but scored 18 of his 19 points in the second quarter. “Hopefully coach Griffin will get a chance to be a head coach soon. We’ll miss him, but hopefully he gets his opportunity to be a head coach. We gave him a bit of a water shower. We forgot to get him the basketball but he’ll have plenty more wins to come and he’ll get that basketball.”
“We were really excited for him,” said Powell, who started in place of the resting Anunoby and scored 17 points. “We wanted to go out there and play hard and help him get his win as a head coach. I thought we did that throughout the game. When things weren’t going as well, when we didn’t get the call or shots weren’t going in, a few defensive breakdowns, he really voiced his opinion on what we needed to do to get better. He had a strong voice in the huddle and I think the guys really rallied around that, especially at the end of the game, playing hard, playing their hearts out for AG. That shows what type of person he is and what type of players we have on this team.”
Griffin has paid his dues in the league over the past two decades. After a nine-year playing career, he’s been an assistant coach with five teams – Milwaukee, Chicago, Orlando, Oklahoma City, and now Toronto – in 11 seasons. Griffin was working for the Bulls when he first met Nurse, who was coaching Chicago’s D-League affiliate at the time.
When Nurse got the Raptors’ head coaching job in June of 2018, Griffin was one of his first hires.
Nurse has always spoken highly of his assistants and often says that they’ll be head coaches in the league one day. Griffin has already been in consideration. He’s interviewed for six head-coaching jobs, including the Grizzlies gig – which went to Taylor Jenkins – last summer.
While there isn’t much to glean from Griffin’s head coaching debut – he’s still running Nurse’s system after all – this was more about giving a valued member of the staff a well-deserved opportunity, getting him some reps, and sending a message to any team that may have a vacancy in the near future: he’s ready.
Three — Clutch: Johnson was the central figure, but the glory of the comeback should be shared with the rest of the third-stringers. Dewan Hernandez saw his first NBA minutes since December, and showed out with a graceful drive to the basket, a fake leading to a score, and a three from the top. Paul Watson Jr. took it in strong for a driving layup. Matt Thomas finally got one to drop at the end with a three to tie.
Four — Chemistry: The comeback wouldn’t have happened without the Raptors’ starters being so engaged. Veteran leaders like Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet formed the most expensive cheerleading troop ever, as they willed the third stringers every step of the way. The Sixers bench were up, too, with Embiid and Al Horford barking back and forth, and it made for an electric atmosphere inside an otherwise empty auditorium. To quote Raptors broadcaster Jack Armstrong, “they must be really bored inside that bubble.”
Five — Milestone: In making the comeback, the Raptors secured the first NBA win for assistant coach Adrian Griffin. Nurse approached Griffin before the game with the idea to coach, saying that he wanted to give him some valuable experience, and Griffin accepted the challenge. It’s hard to take anything away from just one game, but Griffin looked natural at the wheels. He even got a chance to draw up the game-winning play, although Brett Brown gave him a gift by sending a hard double team at half-court, which Johnson easily dribbled out of before setting up his go-ahead move. The only regret is that the Raptors failed to secure the game ball for Griffin, but there will be more chances in the future. Griffin is as experienced as they come in the NBA, having played and coached for over 20 years, and judging by their effort tonight, it’s clear that his players adore him.
But sometimes a simple gesture can speak louder than words, or slogans.
When the Raptors tipped off against the Philadelphia 76ers in the penultimate of their eight seeding games before Toronto’s first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets starts, head coach Nick Nurse wasn’t on the Raptors bench.
Instead it was his lead assistant, Adrian Griffin, who was in the first chair, orchestrating the timeouts, pacing the sidelines and managing substitutions in what ended up being a dramatic (these things being relative) 125-121 comeback win decided when little-used Stanley Johnson scored on a putback in the lane with 4.9 seconds left to cap a 24-10 run to close the fourth quarter. The win from 16 points down improved their seeding-game record to 6-1 and 52-19 overall before they finish up the regular season Friday afternoon against the Denver Nuggets.
It was a fun night for all involved as the Raptors starters wore themselves out cheering on the bottom-five players on the roster as along with Johnson the likes of Dewan Hernandez and Paul Watson made huge plays down the stretch pull out the win.
And Griffin got his due also as several of the Raptors made a point to congratulate the well-liked assistant on moving to 1-0 as a head coach.
“We literally have our coach Nick Nurse to thank for having the humility and understanding to let [Griffin] coach us on national TV,” said Raptors leader Kyle Lowry, who chipped in 17 points on 10 shots. “From the first tip of the game, he did an unbelievable job. Hopefully coach Griffin will get a chance to be a head coach soon. We’ll miss him, but hopefully he gets his opportunity to be a head coach. We gave him a bit of a water shower. We forgot to get him the basketball, but he’ll have plenty more wins to come and he’ll get that basketball.”
The Eastern Conference playoff field is set, and the final day of the regular season will bring a preview of a first-round matchup.
Indiana’s win over Houston on Wednesday set what had been the last two unknown series on the East bracket. No. 3 Boston will play No. 6 Philadelphia in a meeting between longtime rivals, and the Pacers are now locked into an East opening series against the Miami Heat — with the potential of those teams playing nine times in a span of 10 games.
Miami beat Indiana on Monday. The teams meet again Friday in the seeding-game finale for both clubs, then face off in Game 1 to begin a best-of-seven series early next week.
That means, for just the second time since 2011, teams that end the regular season against one another will open the post-season against one another. The last time it happened was 2016, when Cleveland faced Detroit.
“It’s good to know that we play them,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who learned of Indiana’s win over Houston about 90 minutes prior to Miami’s start time against Oklahoma City on Wednesday night. “Just need to figure out what uniform we’re wearing.”
That part is true: Miami needs one more win to secure the No. 4 seed, and the right to be declared the “home” team for Games 1 and 2 of the series. If the Heat lose Wednesday and then Friday’s finale, Indiana will be No. 4 in the East and Miami will be No. 5.
The Heat lead the season series with the Pacers, 3-0.
“We’ve got to match Miami’s energy,” Indiana’s Edmond Sumner said. “That’s a team that’s going to play hard for 48 minutes.”
It’ll be the first Heat-Pacers series since they met in three consecutive postseasons — 2012, 2013 and 2014, with Miami winning all those. The only other playoff matchup between the clubs was in 2004, with Indiana winning that one.
The Celtics have defeated the 76ers in each of their last four post-season series. Philadelphia’s last time ousting Boston was in 1982.
The other East matchups were known previously: No. 1 Milwaukee plays No. 8 Orlando, and No. 2 Toronto plays No. 7 Brooklyn.
— Art Gallery of Ontario (@agotoronto) August 11, 2020
But the real heroics, as they often do in these games, came in the dying minutes with coach Adrian Griffin — taking over the head coaching duties for the night while Nick Nurse watched from the seats — putting the result in the hands of Dewan Hernandez, Malcolm Miller, Stanley Johnson, Matt Thomas and Paul Watson.
Johnson had the winning basket off a miss by Hernandez, while Thomas, of course, chipped in with a must-have three late. Watson had the drive of the night, also late before laying one in through traffic while Miller provided the defence the team needed down the stretch.
It helped overturn what at one point was a 16-point 76ers lead.
As entertaining as anything on the floor were the two teams’ respective starters in the unfamiliar role of cheerleaders on the bench. The two sides had as much fun cheering on the guys who normally handle that role when they’re playing.
“We’re always talking to those guys, telling them to be ready for the opportunity,” Raptors guard Norm Powell said. “You know, when they get a chance to go out there in those types of minutes not to (waste) them, go out there and play the game the right play, play aggressive and go out there and show that you belong. I really talk to those guys because I’ve been in that situation and I want them to succeed. Not only me but everybody on the team.”
It really was one of those perfect nights for everyone in Raptors’ colours.
The Toronto Raptors assistant was promoted to head coach for Wednesday’s seeding-round game against the Philadelphia 76ers, and planned to cherish the opportunity.
“Well, I think coach [head coach Nick Nurse] is an awesome human being. He understands that a coach like me needs some reps at being a head coach,” Griffin said prior to tipoff at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla. “He knows my ambitions and he wants to see me grow as an individual on and off the court.
“Definitely just an awesome gesture by coach, he approached me with it and it just kinda shows what kind of character that coach Nurse has.”
The Raptors said it’s the first time the team has had a substitute head coach since Feb. 13, 2008 when Jay Triano stepped in for Sam Mitchell after the death of his father-in-law. It was the first time a Canadian had coached a regular-season NBA game. The Raptors won 109-91 over New Jersey.
The 46-year-old Griffin, who played nine seasons in the NBA, was hired by the Raptors in 2018 after assistant coaching stints with Milwaukee, Chicago, Orlando and Oklahoma City.
What did he hope to glean from his temporary promotion?
“Well, just like when athletes and basketball players are training in the summer, there’s nothing comparing to game condition,” he said. “You can work out all you want, but until you get in those games and you get up and down the court, there’s a difference. It’s really equivalent to an assistant coach moving over to that chair. You do all the training that you can and practise, but it’s good to get those game reps.”